Tom welcomes guest Anton Bosch, pastor of Sun Valley Community Church in California, as they discuss the "Strange Fire Conference" held by Grace to You, John MacArthur's ministry.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call, featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in. In today’s program, Tom welcomes special guest Pastor Anton Bosch from Sun Valley Community Church in California. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Our guest for today is Anton Bosch. He’s the pastor of Sun Valley Community Church just north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. I’ve known of Anton from common friends we have and his articles posted on Herescope blogsite, which is an apologetics site of the Discernment Research group.
Well, Anton, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Anton: Thank you, Tom, it’s a great blessing in progress to be with you. I’ve been an admirer of the work that you guys have been doing for many years, and so it’s good to be with you today and to be able to speak specifically on this subject.
Tom: Yeah! And the topic that we’re going to get into today is related to an article that I read by Anton, which was posted on Christian Witness Ministries’ website, which is out of Australia. Now in it, Anton, you addressed the conference that took place, well, not very far from you, from your church in Sun Valley. The conference was titled “Strange Fire” and it was held at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, which is also in Sun Valley.
But before we get to that, Anton, tell our listeners a little of your background as a believer.
Anton: Well, Tom, I grew up in a Christian home; in fact, my family have been preachers for four generations--I’m the fourth generation--and, interestingly enough, on this particular topic, my great grandfather Mahon was asked to leave the Salvation Army; he was a captain in the Salvation Army, and he was asked to leave because he found that God was using him to heal the sick amongst the Zulu in South Africa.
But anyway, I came to personal faith at about 16 and understood that God was calling me, you know, straight after school went to Bible school, and then straight into the ministry from there. I was in the ministry before I was 21, which is horrifying today. And, yeah, so this is my fortieth year in the ministry. I moved to the United States ten years ago this last week and started pastoring the church here in…first in Burbank, and then we moved to Sun Valley, and yeah, in addition to pastoring, I write extensively and am very involved in a Bible school, which we were able to establish in Zimbabwe. We see a great need for the teaching of the Word of God in Africa.
Tom: Yeah. Now, as we mentioned, you’re not very far from Grace Community Church, but nevertheless, what motivated you to attend the Strange Fire Conference?
Anton: Well, Tom, you know, obviously because John MacArthur is very close to us, it’s about two miles down the same road—we’re in the same city—but I’ve admired him for a long time, many, many years, really appreciated his ministry, read many of his books, many of his commentaries, listened to him on the radio when I was in South Africa, and so on. And so, I’ve always been interested in his teaching and in his direction, and, you know, he’s had a big influence on my ministry in the sense that he was really the one who alerted me to the importance of exegetical teaching, which is what I do today, not just because of him but he was a large influence in that. And so, there’s a little bit of a history there, and so Shane Idleman, one of my pastor friends from Lancaster just in the high desert here, he had a spare ticket, and you know, I don’t go out of my way to attend these things, but he had the spare ticket, and I thought, well, this is a good idea. And so we went down.
Tom: You know, mentioning John as well, I think you could count easily on one hand the number of highly visible pastors who have continually stood up against the Roman Catholic Church and the influence it’s had among evangelicals, so I agree with that part.
Now, but having said that, as you know, I didn’t attend the conference, but we were receiving calls and emails after it took place. It took place in October of this year (2013) and the responses-- people were confused -- I think that’s the best way to describe it, what was taught there, and so on.
Well, I found that the conference, the entire conference, was posted on the Internet by Grace Community Church, and there were videos as well as, interestingly, there were transcripts of all the presentations, all the speakers, and so on. And that gave me the opportunity to review each of the messages accurately—not only what they said but how they said it, and then looking at the transcripts. But before I go into my impression -- you were there, at least for one day, I don’t know how many of the presentations you heard, but give me your impressions.
Anton: Yeah, Tom. Yeah, I was there for the whole of the first day and then parts of the last day. And since then I’ve listened to a lot of the….read the transcripts and listened to the “tapes” and read the book. But if I have to sum it up, and obviously it’s a massive subject, many facets to it, but there are really a few major things that stand out. The first is the term “broad brush,” and I just did a Google for the term “strange fire” and “broad brush” yesterday on Google and came up 5,700 hits. So, I’m not the only one who’s using that term. He’s looking at the Charismatic and the Pentecostal movements and painting this whole thing with an incredibly broad brush. One of the disappointments -- and the conference was a huge disappointment for me, not because of the opposition or the cessationist things as such, but because of the methodology and lack of a scientific and scholarly approach to this whole thing. That really is the thing that stood out for me.
So it’s a broad brush approach -- it’s largely based on anecdotal evidence and certainly it is not sola scriptura, and this, of course, for me is a personal disappointment, because that’s what MacArthur has always stood for is sola scriptura, and there is nothing about that conference that was sola scriptura, and there is nothing about the book that is sola scriptura.
Tom: Well, my impression, Anton, as I said, comes from listening to all the messages -- there were 17 messages plus two presentations that were Q&A, and I always go about something and say, “Great! What can we get out of this? What might be the value of this?” I don’t care who it is, you know, some things you could write off right away and other things, you know, you have to take more time to check it out.
Well, I’ll just read you from the presentation on the website of what the intention was for the conference. I’m quoting: “Strange Fire, part of Grace to You’s Truth Matters Conference series, evaluates the doctrines, claims, and practices of the modern Charismatic movement and affirms the true person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.”
Now, as I said there were 17 messages. Some had a couple, three or four -- John, I think, had four. But in addition to John MacArthur, the speakers were R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, Conrad Mbewe [Anton corrects Tom’s pronunciation], it’s spelled M-b-e-w-e, folks, so you can see how I might have a problem with that, Tom Pennington, Phil Johnson, Nathan Busenitz, Justin Peters, Todd Friel, and Joni Earickson-Tada. So that was the group that presented all of these things, and again, the claim is to address the issues, the distortions, the abuses of the Scripture within the Charismatic movement. And, as you mentioned, Anton, that’s the broad brush approach.
For me, personally, it’s hard for me to be critical of something that deals with such a wide issue -- an issue that’s pervasive throughout the church, and I’m talking about the distortions not just of the gifts but the ministry distortions within the…call it the TBN crowd, those who are in my view, basically, con men out there. Obviously not all, and that was the problem that I had, to throw many who were involved in discernment ministries that are non-charismatic, or even charismatic, into this sort of WWF, World Wrestling Federation mentality as opposed to those who were dealing with the issues very specifically and critically.
And there have been many ministries out there…but I’m thinking about only The Berean Call, Personal Freedom Outreach, Herescope, Christian Witness Ministries, Midwest Christian Outreach, Watchman Fellowship, and many, many others who’ve addressed this subject over the years. The Berean Call, my involvement with Dave, we go back almost three and a half decades of addressing this -- The Seduction of Christianity. That was one of the main issues in that book.
So none of these are mentioned. I have no doubt that a lot of the information that was presented comes out of many of these ministries that have been doing this for years.
Tom: So that, in general, that was a concern that I had. But I think my greatest concern, and you can speak to this as well, Calvinism—Calvinist cessationism is presented as the silver bullet, as it were, that’s going to solve all the problems related to the abuses within the church of the gifts, and so on, and, you know, again, these con men out there, these charlatans, who are presenting their ideas -- Word/Faith, Latter Rain, Signs and Wonders groups that have just abused the Scriptures to no end, and of many millions, which the conference points out, millions of people have bought into this.
So, again, I can say this straight out, folks, Calvisnist cessationism is not the silver bullet to solve all of these problems, but that was the impression that I got from the conference.
Anton: Yeah, you’re quite right, Tom, that…you know, if you analyze the book and you try and boil it down to its framework, the book and really the conference, therefore, rests on three legs. The first one is experience. And, obviously, negative experience, in this case.
Now, you have to remember that MacArthur is the guy who lambastes everybody else in the Pentecostal or Charismatic field for building their theology on experience. But he has done exactly the same and worse. He has looked at some of the negative experiences, and really these examples are really people like Benny Hinn and TBN, and so because these guys are charlatans, which they are, and we agree on that, therefore, the whole thing is wrong. Everything about continuationism is wrong.
Now, you can’t build your theology on experience. He has taught that for many years. We have said that for many years. And yet, here he is building his theology on experience, or on a negative experience.
The second leg is history, and he has a highly revisionist form of church history, going back to Augustine, and one of the things that shocked me in the conference was the emphasis on Calvin, the Reformers, and the church fathers. But even then, it is a revisionist version of that history, and at the end of his book, it is very interesting that he has an addendum at the end of the book in which he lists various events in history, or various people in history, who have spoken against the gifts.
But at the same time, Wayne Gruden, who brought out a book called The Gift of Prophecy, and I’m not sure when the first one was done, but the last revision was in 2000, he had a list at the back of Reformed people who exercised some of the spiritual gifts and so on. So it seems to be a little bit of a copy of that.
But anyway, so in this list, you know, amongst others one of the first one that he lists is Augustine speaking out against spiritual gifts. But what he doesn’t mention is that that was early on in Augustine’s life and ministry. Later on, in his own ministry there were powerful signs of healings and even people being raised from the dead. And he then changed his tune. And this is what the book and the conference does throughout is it selectively chooses statements by various people in the last 2,000 years and uses those in a really unscientific way.
And then the third leg -- well, let me, before I get to the third leg -- based on this thing you end up with a thing called “eisegesis,” which is something that MacArthur speaks about a lot and that’s reading into the text of scripture your own ideas. And so, he looks at his own experience, he’s looked at his version of church history, and he’s looked at the Reformers and the church fathers, and based on that, he now interprets the Scriptures and comes up with, you know, his version of what the Scriptures say.
So the third leg, then, is really Calvinism and the church fathers. And this is very weird for an evangelical, and he does class himself as an evangelical, to go to the church fathers. Our appeal has always been to the Scriptures.
Anton: And Sola Scriptura means “only the Scripture.” Scriptures without experience, without history, without the church fathers, without the Reformers—just the pure Scriptures. And yet his whole approach is based on these things. So, yeah, Calvinism and the church fathers is a very, very important part of the whole argument, and there was at least one, by Lawson, there was at least one major presentation in which Lawson never quoted the Scriptures but only quoted Calvin over and over and over in terms of what Calvin had to say about the false miracles mainly that happened, or that was claimed by the Roman Catholic Church at the time.
Tom: And I will give you some quotes. Now, I’m sure this is going to be a controversial program, I don’t have any doubt about that. However, my concern, as I said, initially going into it, I’m thinking, “Great! Here’s another voice dealing with the abuses of, you know, the gifts of the Spirit and even to the point of these charlatans and con men,” so whatever comes out of something like that, you figure, “Okay, this is going to be great.”
However, not only in regard to what you have just said, but when I got through about four or five of the…well, I didn’t have to go that far, but about three or four of the presentations, I could see, wait a minute! This is not really about the gifts. This is about the proof of Calvinism and Calvinist cessationism! This is really the thrust of conference. All of the speakers were Calvinists.
Tom: All of the information—they were attributing many…you said church fathers, which is an irony there, but not just that, but the individuals that they made sort of the heroes of the faith, in their view, they were all Calvinists. Okay, I’m not saying they weren’t Calvinists, but these are the ones that were upheld to support sola scriptura and so forth. This was a huge concern for me, because of the confusion it creates among those who attended the conference, will hear the conference, will read the book. The conference had, as I mentioned, 8 or 9 speakers; the book is just by John MacArthur himself, and the conference as well was a platform for promoting John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire.
So let me just back up some of the things that you’re saying from some quotes. As I said, seventeen different presentations. Now, the mentality there, and this is the way it was presented (obviously, it’s my evaluation), but it was an “us” and “them.” In other words, if you were a Calvinist, you were okay. Well, more than okay. You were on the right track even though they mentioned that there were Charismatic Calvinists, which got part of it right because of their Calvinism, and so on.
But it was basically an “Us” and “Them” thing. Now, John MacArthur declared, “Read the Reformers, and read the Puritans, and follow the flow of truth through history and find richness and understanding and clarity on every issue, going all the way back. You’re not going to go to an association of Reformed churches, those who believe the doctrines of the Reformation, that take us back to the doctrines of the New Testament, and find false miracles.
Now, you mentioned Steve Lawson, and here’s a quote from him: “Those of us who are Reformed in our theology are enormously grateful for the revival of Reformed theology that has swept through the body of Christ over these last years. In fact, Dr. MacArthur has said, ‘If you’re not Reformed right now, you are basically irrelevant.’”
And then Lawson adds to that, “No, it’s not just that—you’re wrong!”
There was the pastor from Africa, for example. His position was, “I’m glad to say that there’s a growing Reformed movement on the continent, but it’s still very much a trickle, and we need to pray and do everything we can to get Christianity back to the Bible.”
You know, I would say “Amen” to the Bible, but not back to Reformed theology. That’s a great concern.
Now, Anton, I have to go over some of the issues with regard to some of their sacred icons. Now, you mentioned it earlier: for all of what Augustine has brought forth, you can’t get away from the fact that he is the doctor/father of major dogmas of Roman Catholicism.
Anton: He is.
Tom: I find some irony there.
Anton: You know, it’s absolutely weird, and I just can’t wrap my head around that. It literally blows my mind, because yeah, Augustine is the father of Catholicism, and if MacArthur is saying that the line of truth runs from the apostles to Augustine to the Reformers and then to himself and R.C. Sproul, well, then that line is passing through the Roman Catholic Church.
Tom: There can’t be any way around that! Well, let me add to that. As I said, they quote their icons within Calvinism, and one of them is B.B. Warfield. Now here’s a quote from B.B. Warfield. He says, “It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation.” Yet at the same time, he acknowledges that Augustine was again, in the words of Warfield, “In a true sense, the founder of Roman Catholicism and the creator of the Holy Roman Empire.”
Now wait a minute! So he gave us the Reformation, and then the Catholic Church comes along with the counter-Reformation, but Augustine is a part of that? You see what I mean by confusion?
Tom: I don’t -- I don’t get it.
Anton: And you know, Augustine has never been regarded, in evangelical circles, Augustine has never been regarded as a bastion of truth. He was one of the first to introduce -- not the first, but he was one of the first -- to introduce and popularize the whole allegorical approach in interpreting the Scriptures not literally but allegorically.
So there’s very little that we can thank Augustine for except that he illustrates the corruptness of the church and how the church had decayed by his time. That’s all he illustrates.
Tom: Yeah, now, again, there’s so much that we could go into and some we will go into, but we’re about out of time. What I’d like to talk to you about next week—again, in the vein of confusion and delusion, and in upholding men, fallible men, and worse on the part of this conference, I really want to talk about Calvin, because it’s almost like, you know, as the Catholics would have a canonized saint, even the view of the Calvinists with regard to John Calvin, you have something along the same order, that this man could do no wrong. We’re going to talk about that next week.
Anton: Yeah, I think that the concern for me, as I said at the beginning, is of course, the issue of cessationism vs. continuationism is a real issue. I’m not saying that that’s not an issue. But it is how you deal with the problem amongst those who claim to be brothers, and it is how you come to your conclusions that is really the problem, and what we’re seeing is the popularizing now of a wholesale move away from the Scriptures as the base of our truth, and basing truth now also on also some external things.
Tom: Right, and we’re going to talk about this, the Lord willing, next week. Just to add onto that, you know, I know many people -- I call them “refugees” (this is people in Europe and England with what they would call the “wacky” churches, those that have gotten into the Toronto Blessing and Holy Trinity Brompton, and so on), and my concern here is they’re still not there in terms of being solid in the Scriptures, but they know what they have escaped from. Now to bring them back, or to coerce them, into a system of man, Calvinistic theology, to me is not helpful. It may look safe to them, because now they don’t have to deal with the issues of the gifts of the Spirit. Well, it’s in the Bible. You’ve got to deal with it. But how we go about it, and my concern for them, this conference and what has been presented is not true to the Word of God.
Anton: No, it’s not. The Calvinism that he is selling is not what Calvinism really is. Calvinism, in my understanding, is not evangelical. And my experience in Africa with the Dutch Reformed Church is that it is far from a Bible-based evangelical movement. And so, in that respect, MacArthur is an anomaly because he has married dispensationalism and evangelicalism with Calvinism. And that’s a strange alliance just there.
Tom: Well, the Lord willing, we will continue to address these really important issues in the church next week.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Bend, OR 97708; call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org.
I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could be here. And we invite you back again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures Daily.